Students protest University’s coal use

The Sierra Student Coalition raises awareness of the need for renewable energy sources on campus.

Students protest University’s coal use

Luke Feuerherm

A group of University of Minnesota students gathered Wednesday outside the UniversityâÄôs Southeast Steam Plant to raise awareness of the schoolâÄôs use of coal to produce energy. The students comprise one of nearly 50 chapters of the Sierra Student Coalition throughout the country who favor sustainable energy and protested the use of coal on campuses. âÄúWe have an opportunity to create clean energy jobs, clean up our air and solve the climate challenge by moving away from coal,âÄù said Blair Bollig , a second-year environmental science major at the University. A report released Wednesday by the Sierra Club cited the University as one of 11 universities nationwide that needs to clean up its act. The release of the report marked the kickoff of a new national campaign aimed at transitioning campus coal use to cleaner energy options. WednesdayâÄôs protest featured the dropping of 50 pounds of charcoal to represent the amount of coal that is burned every 30 seconds at the plant, which is located just east of the Stone Arch Bridge on the bank of the Mississippi River. The protest concluded with the delivery of a copy of the report to University President Bob Bruininks. The University currently gets 23 percent of its energy from coal, University Services spokesman Tim Busse said . Since 2006, the University has been supplementing its coal burning with locally grown oat hulls âÄî a blend that burns cleaner than pure coal. Some universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University and Ball State University, have begun to transition away from coal use completely, but the switch to clean energy is a slow and costly process. âÄúItâÄôs not achievable overnight,âÄù said Rod Larkins, associate director for the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment at the University. âÄúItâÄôs an issue of cost and commitment.âÄù UW-MadisonâÄôs renewable energy initiative includes the building of a new biomass boiler. Announced earlier this year by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle , the project isnâÄôt expected to be up and running until 2012 and is estimated to cost the university up to $300 million. âÄúInstitutions of higher education are supposed to be the vanguard of forward thinking and sustainability,âÄù said Adam Macon , who organized the protest. âÄúThey have this dirty little secret in that they burn lots of coal, which is the worst contributor to global warming and a great danger to public health and the environment.âÄù According to the Sierra Club report, the University of Minnesota has three boilers on campus capable of burning a combination of coal, biomass, natural gas and fuel oil. The University is a member of the Chicago Climate Exchange and the University Presidents Climate Commitment , both of which pledge climate neutrality and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The University must also meet statewide energy goals, including the renewable portfolio standard, which requires 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.